How to Write a Good Eulogy
Have you been asked to give a eulogy? Where do you start? How do you start? What should be shared? How long should it be?
Are you planning a remembrance service? Should a eulogy be included? Is a eulogy permitted during a church service? Who should give it?
Whether planning a service or preparing a eulogy, understanding more about a good eulogy is worthwhile. A well-crafted speech intended to commemorate a loved one who has died, a eulogy is often part of a funeral or memorial service. It is usually given by someone who was close to the deceased. Sometimes more than one eulogy is presented.
Over the years, we have listened to many eulogies and written a few ourselves. We've put together some tips to help get you started.
Things to think about while planning:
- Some churches do not allow eulogies during a church service. Others permit a brief reflection before the service or at the end. If you want a eulogy to be part of a church service, discuss this with the minister. Ask when during the service it is preferred and if there are any guidelines or restrictions to be aware of.
- Other appropriate times for a eulogy may be during an evening service, during a visitation or following the remembrance service at a luncheon or reception.
- If there are to be any readings during the service, the eulogist should be informed.
- If there is to be more than one eulogy given, review this with the minister and coordinate with each speaker. Each speaker should avoid similar stories and themes, and each should be brief.
General preparation tips:
- Eulogies are for the living, and for everyone at a remembrance service.
- Be brief. People listen for three to five minutes. After five minutes, people stop listening.
- Do a bit of research. Talk to others. What are some childhood memories? Was there a favorite lesson learned? Was there a favorite quote or an inspiring song? What was the deceased like at work? What were some favorite accomplishments?
- Write out the eulogy. Even if you are an experienced speaker, during the emotional time of a rememberance service it is especially easy to wander.
- Write and speak from the heart. Be yourself.
- Practice the eulogy. Time it. Rehearse in front of an audience (one or two people). Listen to their feedback. Edit. Practice again.
- Have a back-up plan. In case you are unable to begin or finish, have someone else prepared to deliver the eulogy for you.
- A eulogy commemorates a life well-lived and personalizes a sacred ritual.
- A eulogy is neither a toast nor a roast, nor is it a time to speak to life's unfairness.
- If humor is used, take great care to ensure it is meaningful and appropriate.
- Think about the deceased and the relationship you had. Recall where and when you met, things you did together, and humorous or touching memories.
- Share a few uplifting memories. Reference a couple of significant events. Reflect on a few values and passions. It is okay to bring up difficult times, especially if they demonstrate positive values and/or have a happy ending. If unsure about sharing something, review with those closest to the deceased.
- Demonstrate values and traits with stories. Describe an elaborate party. Share a favorite adventure. Share an example of generosity.
- Do not chronicle an entire life.
- Use large print and have more than one copy. If it is more than one page, have each page organized and numbered.
- Keep a eulogy positive, to the point, and less than five minutes.
- Say, "It was God's will." or "It's for the best." Such statements make no one feel better.
- Minimize the loss. That also makes no one feel better.
- Share inside jokes. The eulogy should be easily understood by all who will hear it. No one should feel uncomfortable.
- Forget that you are honoring a loved one's life. Stories of childhood antics, prom dates, pranks or other shenanigans rarely speak to the treasured values of a loved one. Again, no one should feel uncomfortable.
- Make it about you. Do not say, "I don't know how I will go on" or "He told me that I was the best friend that he ever had" or "During her long illness, I don't know how she kept her faith." Instead say, "He was a lifelong friend to all here" or "Throughout her illness, her faith became stronger" or "Many people here have told me how she always had time for them." Always remember that the eulogy is about the person who has died; it is not about the person who is delivering it.
- Arrive early to the service. If there is visiting beforehand, arrive before it starts.
- Know from where you are going to speak. Walk around it.
- Is there a microphone? If so, check whether or not it is on. Ensure that you know how to turn it on. Know how to adjust it to the proper height.
- If there is not a microphone, practice how loud you will need to speak to be heard at the back of the space.
- Know where you are going to sit during the service. Practice walking up to the podium from your seat.
- Where are you going to keep your written copy? If with you, be sure to have it in order. If at the podium, be sure it will be ready and available when you speak. Know where your extra copy is.
- Review with the minister or facilitator of the service when you are to speak. Is it after a specific reading or song? Are you going to be introduced?
- Have tissues available. Have access to water.
- It is okay to take some quiet time before the service to collect yourself, get a drink of water and take a deep breath.
- Remember to look at the audience as you speak.
- It is okay to show emotion. If the emotion gets to be too much, stop. Take a breath or two. Take another. Now try to regain your composure. If you are unable, defer to your back-up person.